INDIANOLA, Iowa — Fifty-year-old Michelle Spear has always known she was adopted and even has a relationship with her biological parents; but Iowa’s laws have prevented her from obtaining her original birth certificate.
“It’s who I was for the first five days of my life. It’s my origins,” Spear said. “And there is no one else in the state of Iowa that, one — can’t have their original birth certificate or, two — has to ask permission to get it.”
On Wednesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bipartisan bill into law that will allow adult adoptees to more easily get the original copy of their birth certificate. Previously, adoptees would have to go through court procedures in order to do so.
“Today, about half of all states allow adult adoptees some form of access to their original birth certificate without the complexity of going to court,” Rep. Marti Anderson, D-Des Moines said.
Anderson gave up her daughter for adoption when she got pregnant at age 19. In an emotional speech on the House floor, she said she prayed for her daughter’s wellbeing every day and had hoped to get in touch with her. Anderson was only able to connect with her daughter in 2018 because each of them took an Ancestry.com DNA test.
“An original birth certificate may be the only piece of paper they get that lists his or her own birth name,” she said. “…adopted people have the right to find out about their ethnicity, medical history, family information and culture.”
Spear and other adoptees had been working with legislators like Anderson since 2014 in hopes of getting this legislation passed.
Under the new law, biological parents will fill out a “contact preference” form to indicate whether they’d like to be contacted by the child they’re giving up for adoption or if they’d like their names redacted from the birth certificate. They’d also be given medical history forms that an adoptee could get when they become an adult in order to have information about family medical or genetic history.
Spear believes one of the reasons it has taken so long to get the legislation passed is assumptions lawmakers and lobbyists might have had about adoptees trying to get their birth certificate as means for finding their biological parents.
“So many legislators really thought it was about searching,” she said. “But if it truly was about searching, I can tell you from experience of other adoptees, they’re going to find them…so for us it really wasn’t about searching. It was absolutely about this government document that I as an adult should have the right to see.”
Spear said when children are put up for adoption, they are issued a new or amended birth certificate, which can have limitations. She shared anecdotes of other adoptee friends who had difficulty getting a passport, enlisting in the military or registering with their Native American tribe they belong to — without proof of the original certificate.
“Identity wise, it’s very important to people to just have,” she said. “And a lot of people say ‘well it’s just a piece of paper,” well it is to you because you have yours. If you don’t have it, it’s so much more than just a piece of paper.”
Although Spear wasn’t particularly pleased with the provision of the legislation that gives biological parents the option to redact their names from the birth certificate, she said it is a compromise they felt was necessary for their greater goal.
“I changed the law — me,” she said. “It only takes one person. If you believe in it strong enough and it truly is the right thing, then yeah, it’s incredible.”
State officials plan to start a public relations campaign to reach parents who have already given up a child for adoption so they can fill out those forms if they choose to. Spear has a group on Facebook called the Iowa Adoptee and Family Coalition you can “like” if you have had a similar experience.